18th and 19th Century Literature
American Revolution raised hopes in the new country for a kind of literary
revolution as well. Yet aside from some important political writers,
America had few promising authors. Influenced by, and still living
in England’s shadow, American authors had yet to prove themselves
to the literary world. This, in great part, was due to the fact that
the society was just evolving, and there were no time honored American
traditions, mores and models upon which to base a great novel. The
American frontier did provide, however, with its diverse immigrants,
lifestyles and languages, a new perspective on the world and society,
unique in history. Great writers did emerge in this setting, and we
offer up several here, selected from the Enlightenment to the Romantic
In contrast, this was another prolific era in English literature. However, it was also a time of change in English society as more of the population shifted from country to town life. Restrictions on printing were being lifted and so the publishing industry grew. The 19th century brought us the Romantic period, an age most associated with poetry, and in which some of the best poets were women. But it is also a time that the essay, the drama and the novel flourished, with the emergence of the Gothic novelists.
Also on this page, you will find some classics of World Literature, those commonly read in English versions. Toward the end of the 19th century, literary styles had begun to shift to Naturalism and Realism, depicting common people in everyday life situations. But there was also, especially in France, a resurgence of Romanticism, or Neo-Romanticism, which extols honor and virtue with grand themes.
Benjamin Franklin is an icon of American history but also a clever, pragmatic writer. His Poor Richard’s Almanac is a source of countless quotable quotes. In his autobiography, we see Franklin’s true nature as a man of the people.
Acting it out: improv a scene that illustrates a quote
Edgar Allen Poe tells a murderer’s side of the story in this well known horror tale.
Acting it out: “before the story began” improv
This dialogue between Hester and Dimmesdale where they meet in the woods, free from society’s glare, to discuss their situation and to unburden their souls to one another.
Acting it out: improv the scene in modern language
This loving, literary couple was very prolific. Works include Elizabeth’s famous poem “How Do I Love Thee?” written for her husband.
Acting it out: “telephone” improv
From chapter 8, Seventeen year old Marianne Dashwood reacts to the suggestion that 35 year old Colonel Brandon is in love with her.
Acting it out: walk in character
Here are two scenes -- one comic, the other tragic from the classic French play. A dashing officer of the guard and romantic poet (with a huge, hideous nose) Cyrano de Bergerac falls in love with the beautiful Roxane, without her knowing it. He meets a handsome young cadet named Christian, who also loves Roxane, but is incapable of wooing her with words. Cyrano agrees to help his rival by writing love letters to her which Christian sends, thus winning her love. In this first scene clip (Act II Sc 9) Cyrano encounters Christian, who heckles and interrupts Cyrano's telling of an heroic adventure. In the second clip (Act V Sc 6), the last scene in the play, Christian has died in battle, and Roxane discovers it was Cyrano she'd been in love with all along, only to find he has also been mortally wounded.
Acting it out: prop symbology